Saturday, 30 March 2013

Darjeeling, day 2. Observatory Hill, and the Happy Valley Tea Garden.

Today we had breakfast at the Frank Ross café and then walked up to Observatory Hill, where an observatory used to stand, and now houses several Buddhist & Hindu temples and lots of monkeys. Coming down off the hill we walked around the promontory and found a viewing point where, on a clear day, you can see Kanchenjunga. Today was not a clear day, though it had begun much clearer than yesterday.

After getting back to Chowrasta we went to Nathmull's to buy tea. After trying 3 sorts, gathered at different times of the year (flushes) and of different strengths, and served without milk, in whisky and wine glasses, I made an investment in some different packets of tea. Then to Glenary's café for lunch (and wifi). Whilst we were sitting down I there it began to rain, and continued to rain on and off until perhaps 4pm.

This didn't stop us getting a cab to the Happy Valley Tea Garden, where you're shown the process of drying and then grading/sorting the tea (which you're not allowed to photograph), and can then buy some of their tea (they otherwise ship it all to Harrods) and walk around the tea plants on the estate, which we did for about 45 minutes.

Back at the hotel, I finally went to the local Vodafone shop to get a local prepay SIM. This is surprisingly difficult, and requires first an argument that they actually do have such things, then that it's ok to sell it me now and it will activate in 2 days, and then the paper work, which requires a photocopy of my passport and visa, and a passport photo. Having jumped through the required hoops, I have a local prepay SIM with some credit.

Friday, 29 March 2013

First full day in Darjeeling

Awoke to the sound of traffic from the street outside, and, then, once that had died away somewhat, I could hear birds singing nearby.

We set out to book tickets for the "toy train", the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. This involved queuing to get a form to fill in to request a reservation for seats. It's full until the 1st April, so we have two seats reserved on the 10:15 steam train to Kurseong, via Ghum. To claim them we'll need photo ID.

After getting our reservation we caught a cab from the railway station to the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, which is just north of Darjeeling, and also includes the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. Here we saw black bear, blue sheep and red panda, and a Bengal Tiger, along with goats, deer and leopard. The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute used to be run by Tenzing Norgay, and is where he was cremated.

A shared cab back to Darjeeling (Rs10 each rather than the Rs250 to get to the zoo), and then lunch in the Frank Ross café, and shopping in several places around Chowrasta, which is mercifully car-free.

In the evening we met up with Oliver, Anna and Henry, a German couple and their son, who we met in Kolkata and came to Darjeeling the day before us. We ate at Sonam's Kitchen, Lonely Planet's top choice restaurant. This is clearly the place to go for Europeans. I had "Happy Birthday" sung to me in German and Russian (yes, really). Food excellent, but takes a long time to come, and the place was getting a little chilly by the end of the meal.

Darjeeling, West Bengal

Just getting here was an adventure!

Yesterday morning (Thursday) we checked out of the Casa Fortuna Hotel in Kolkata, and got a cab to the airport, via Modal and Son (8 Rabindra Sarani, Kolkata), who sell musical instruments. Here Jenny bought a sitar. It's a lovely looking instrument, 7 played strings, 13 sympathetic strings... It's quite large. It barely fitted in the back of the cab...

At the airport, all our checked luggage was scanned and sealed. We decided the sitar should go as cabin luggage, but had it scanned and sealed anyway.

The plane was delayed somewhat, I think around 30 minutes, and there was an unannounced change of departure gate, but otherwise fine. The cabin crew were fine about the sitar and found a safe place for it for the flight.

The flight to Bagdogra was uneventful, and our luggage came off the plane quickly. Next mission, getting to Darjeeling (about 90km from Bagdogra / Siliguri). Normally, (it says in the Lonely Planet) you just get a prepaid cab, should be about Rs90 (say around £1). However, Wednesday and Thursday were Holi, so most cabs weren't operating. I was offered a jeep for $100, which I felt was a little steep. Eventually, we joined up with another 4 people going to Darjeeling and arranged a shared car for Rs5000. Much better. And thanks to Mr Mathur for negotiating.

The road journey through Kurseong and Ghum, climbing to 2100m, is brilliant fun - a narrow twisty road, with vertiginous drops off one side on occasion, and steep in places (imagine the Hardknott or Wrynose passes in Cumbria, but 90km long). Sometimes you're travelling alongside the toy train track too, though the line from Siliguri is blocked by a landslide.

Eventually into Darjeeling and to our hotel, the Hotel Mohit. Old-world compared with the hotel in Kolkata, no lift, real keys for the doors and everything. A nice room, with a balcony looking east over the town and away into the distance. No views of the mountains, though, too misty at the moment. We arrived at dusk and it quickly got dark. A decent meal in the hotel's restaurant, with a bottle of Tuborg (no Kingfisher). Then, off out to have a walk around. It seems most places close by 9pm so not much to see.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Some web references

A casual google search found this site Timbershack with the details of my family history in India. This URL links to my great grandfather, Hamilton Charles Gordon, whose death is recounted in the letter documented in an earlier blog entry, and his father, Hamilton Winkup Gordon, who served in the High Court in Calcutta.

Change of plan...

There are no free seats on the sleeper to Siliguri Junction on Wednesday or Thursday, so we'll fly to Bagdogra on Thursday and take it from there.

First morning in Kolkata

We took a cab to the Victoria Memorial, and then another (by somewhat circuitous route) to St. Paul's Cathedral, on the recommendation of a German family staying at the same hotel (and also going on to Darjeeling next). The memorial building holds a large pictorial and photographic exhibition of the history of Calcutta and India's role in the British Empire (or is it the British Empire's role in India...).

St. Paul's Cathedral has many memorial plaques to British soldiers who fell in India in support of the Raj. One, in particular, caught my attention. It names Hamilton Thomas Gordon, who with a name like that is quite likely to be related to the Hamilton Gordons from whom my family is descended. See pictures from an earlier blog entry.

Back to the hotel for coffee and a cool down (it's 36 degrees here, somewhat different to the snowy UK we left behind).

This afternoon, the High Court, and then perhaps a ferry ride across the river.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Day 1, arrived Kolkata via Delhi

Sunday evening, 21:50 flight from Heathrow T3 to Delhi (also T3), Virgin Atlantic (definitely would fly with them again, really good), and a seat move to an exit seat (to accommodate a family) meant slightly more legroom. Though we left about 30 minutes late we arrived about 30 minutes early, thus leaving several hours to kill in Delhi (Indira Gandhi) International Airport before carrying on to Kolkata. A shower in the Plaza lounge helped freshen up and kill some time.

The Indian Airlines flight to Kolkata left and landed on time, and the security check at Delhi was much less intrusive than that at Heathrow. Then, into a prepaid cab to Sealdah station to attempt to book sleeper train tickets to Darjeeling via Siliguri Junction. If this doesn't work we'll need to fly up.

Another taxi to the hotel (Casa Fortuna, AJC Bose Road), and then out to a bar, pretty much next door, for Budweiser (Jenny) and Kingfisher (me), and a live band.

Back to the hotel for a meal, and a chat to the German family at the next table, also on to Darjeeling next.

We planned tomorrow's excursions, let's see how they play out !


Sunday, 24 March 2013

Setting off

And it's heavy snow in Ipswich. Fortunately, trains to London are running fine.

Friday, 22 March 2013

A letter from India

Tezpur Station Club, Tezpur, 30/5/17

Dear Mr Gordon [my Great Uncle, Stewart, an officer in the Indian Army, see here], many thanks for your letter of 25/5/17. I enclose a Registrars certificate of your Fathers [my Great Grandfather, see here] death. I have not been able to write you, as I did not know your address. Mr Jackson was to have sent me it, but evidently you have not been able to give him a permanent address. Your Father & I were very old friends. I was with your Father from the

day he was struck on the 23/1/17 until he died on the 3/2/17. Colonel Levantine & Major McCoy were there also & everything it was possible to do was done. The most of the time your Father was quite conscious and understood what I said to him but - could not speak. He passed away quite peacefully about 3.a.m on the 3/2/17 and we buried him in a pretty little cemetery at Kalaigaon. Colonel Levantine, Major McCoy, Captain ?, George Bridge (a Tea Planter) & I attended the funeral. When Mr Jackson left here he handed over the file of your Fathers estate to me & asked

me to wind everything up. This I am doing, and when finished will send all the papers to Mr Gill who is the only surviving ? of your Fathers. I have had a letter from Miss Gordon your sister [my Grandmother, see here] & one from Miss Blewitt Browne your Aunt. I have ? both of these Ladies. Your Father was a very popular officer to ? here & he had many friends both here & in Nowgong, & I request your permission to allow me to arrange to allow his many friends to erect a stone over his

grave at Kalaigaon. I hope you will grant me this request, as I am sure his many friends here will be greatly pleased if you do. Should you decide to grant me this request I will be pleased if you let me know what inscription you would like put on the stone & if you don't care to give any inscription, I will be pleased to send you a copy of the inscription I think should be put on the stone, for your approval & sanction. Should you at any time get leave, I hope you will come & see me. I will be delighted if you can so this, & I am sure your Father would be glad could he know that you had come to see me. As far so I know from your Father you have no relations in India now & I hope you will always look

upon my Bungalow as you looked upon your Fathers, open to you at all times. You have my sincere sympathy in your sudden and sad loss. Hoping you will find time to come and see me. 

Yours sincerely.

Some very old photos

Here are some very old (around 1900) photos of my family in India.

These photos are of my Great Grandfather, who was a senior officer in the Bengal Police. He died in India in 1917 and is buried in Kalaigaon, Assam.

Obviously, Tiger hunting wasn't frowned on at the beginning of the 20th century.

My Grandmother, with her nurse.

One of my goals in visiting India is to go to Tezpur and Kalaigaon in Assam.

This is my Great Great Grandfather, a Judge in the High Court in Calcutta.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


Here's the trip itinerary, so far:

  • Sunday 24th March, fly to Delhi
  • Monday 25th March, fly to Kolkata
  • Wednesday 27th March, night train to Siliguri, then toy train to Darjeeling
  • Tuesday 2nd April, fly to Delhi
  • Wednesday /Thursday visit Agra
  • Friday 5th April, Jenny flies home, Paul to Guwahati, Assam
  • Paul flies home via Delhi Thursday/ Friday, arriving Saturday 13th April